Kobe Bryant did not enter the NBA as a leader of men. Rather the opposite. The young and highly competitive No. 8 Kobe challenged veterans and rubbed them the wrong way. He also stepped into a situation where he got to win quickly because he was paired with peak Shaquille O’Neal, a great supporting cast, and Phil Jackson as coach.
Learning how to lead a team was more No. 24 Kobe, and he admits it took him time.
Kobe says that’s where Boston’s Kyrie Irving is right now.
Kobe spoke Thursday at a SiriusXM Town Hall (from the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, CA.), and you can hear the “SiriusXM’s Town Hall with Kobe Bryant” Friday on SiriusXM NBA Radio or on SiriusXM On Demand. This is what he said about his friend Irving, who calls Kobe for advice.
“The next move for [Kyrie] is figuring out how to get the most out of the pieces around him. That’s really hard. And understanding how do you find an emotional connection with each player, figure out what their fears are, and help turn those fears into strengths. And to do that you have to put time in. And I don’t mean time in the gym. I mean time listening. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Talking to guys, listening to what they’re saying.”
Kobe said it took losing for him to learn how to lead.
“After we lost to the Celtics [the 2008 NBA Finals]. Because Michael told me the same thing. He said, ‘Listen, you have all the individual tools. Now you have to figure out how to connect with each one of those guys and bring the best out of those guys. It’s not about just passing them the ball and saying that’s what makes guys better. That’s not it. You have to figure out how to touch the right buttons to make them want to be the best versions of themselves. How do you do that? And that was my challenge in ’09 and 2010, I was able to figure it out. And that’s what Kyrie has to figure out.”
Whether Irving has done that well enough to get this year’s Celtics to gel is something we will see in a couple of weeks when the playoffs start.
Whether Irving wants to take on that challenge next season with the Celtics or move on is a question for July (and there are many other variables in that equation).
What we know is Irving has found this part of leadership to be a challenge. He’s far from alone, which is why Kobe is such an excellent sounding board for him. But now it’s on Irving to take the next steps.